New York Spine Institute Spine Services

Signs and Symptoms of a Potential Concussion


Signs and Symptoms of a Potential Concussion

By: Nicholas Post, M.D. FAANS

Nicholas Post, M.D. FAANS, a board-certified neurosurgeon has joined the NY Spine Institute medical staff. NYSI is now the only private practice on Long Island to offer true comprehensive spinal care spanning spine-specific and general orthopedics, neurosurgery, physical therapy, and pain management subspecialties for patients with acute, chronic, or debilitating orthopedic or complex spine and brain conditions.

Anyone can experience a concussion, though athletes and active individuals are considered at higher risk due to their lifestyles. A blow to the head is concerning, even if it seems insignificant at the time. The brain is a sensitive organ — even the slightest impact can have adverse consequences. 

Recognizing the signs and symptoms that you may be dealing with a concussion is essential, as is seeking immediate medical assistance. We’ll discuss what a concussion is, why it’s considered a traumatic brain injury, how it’s diagnosed and how long concussion symptoms last. 

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a moderate brain injury that temporarily disrupts the brain’s usual functioning. It is mainly caused by the brain touching the skull as a result of an individual being hit or struck on the head. Concussions can occur when an individual:

  • Experiences an injury while playing a high-impact sport, such as football.
  • Falls and hits their head. 
  • Is physically assaulted.
  • Is in a car accident. 
  • Experiences an event involving direct head contact with an external object or person, such as penetrating injuries like nonfatal gunshots or stab wounds. 

Upon impact, the brain is jolted in every direction, with the sudden movement damaging brain cells on a microscopic level. The shift often leads to a chemical imbalance, affecting the individual in numerous ways. They may or may not lose consciousness immediately after the initial impact. They will also experience physical, behavioral, sensory and mental symptoms, many of which can be identified by those around them. 

The duration of a concussion varies from one person to the next and depends on whether it’s mild, moderate or severe. It usually resolves within two days after the impact but can last two weeks or more. 

What Is Traumatic Brain Injury?

Concussions are considered traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and range from mild to severe, depending on the blow’s force. Approximately 190 Americans died from TBI-related complications daily in 2021, revealing the serious nature of sustaining a brain injury — symptoms present differently and may have longer-lasting effects than anticipated.

Traumatic brain injuries are one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States, with certain predisposed groups at higher risk based on various factors. Adults 65 and older, for example, are at a higher risk of falling and, therefore, perhaps more likely to experience a TBI. Falls caused over 36,000 deaths for this age group in 2020, making them the leading cause of death for individuals 65 and over.

Repeated blows to the head in contact sports also increase the chances of permanent brain damage or death. Athletes in sports like football and auto racing should take precautions by wearing protective headgear and ensuring enough recovery time between injuries. If one sustains multiple injuries, it is strongly recommended that they consider discontinuing their participation in these sports to avoid further risk. 

How Is a Concussion Diagnosed?

After an incident, seek help from anyone nearby as a first resort. Inspect your head and neck for obvious signs of fractures or bleeding, and if symptoms are severe, contact the nearest doctor or a physician for a medical diagnosis. If you suspect a neck injury, do not move until medical help has arrived. Neck injuries are common with brain injuries and must be treated with extreme caution. 

A doctor might do a CT scan to determine the extent of damage and whether brain bleeding or swelling has occurred. In most cases, a physical examination is sufficient for a diagnosis. 

Rest is advised as the main treatment — this includes both physical and mental rest. For example, patients should avoid activities that mentally strain the brain, such as playing video games, watching TV and using a cell phone. Since headaches are common with concussions, your doctor will advise you on safe medications. In general, you’ll want to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, as these can increase the risk of bleeding. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Concussion? 

Concussion symptoms aren’t just physical. There are also cognitive, behavioral, sensory and emotional symptoms associated with concussions. Some symptoms show immediately, while others develop over time, so your doctor will monitor you closely. 

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms are most common and often include:

  • Nausea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Headaches or head pressure.

Cognitive Symptoms

Since the brain is directly impacted, the following cognitive symptoms may appear:

  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Shorter attention span
  • Short- or long-term amnesia
  • Difficulty remembering minor details
  • Delayed responses to questions and difficulty holding conversations

Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral changes may accompany concussions. These can be slight or extreme, depending on the severity, and may include:

  • Confusion.
  • Personality changes.
  • Stunned or dazed appearance.
  • Altered eating or sleeping patterns.

Sensory Symptoms

Concussions impact the way an individual perceives and interacts with the surrounding world. You may be sensitive to or have a heightened sense of smell, touch, hearing or sight. Other sensory symptoms include: 

  • Clumsiness.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Noise sensitivity.
  • Balancing problems.
  • Decreased motor function.
  • Slow receptiveness to external stimuli.

Emotional Symptoms

The following symptoms influence emotional state: 

  • Mood swings
  • Being more prone to crying
  • Exhibiting antisocial behavior
  • Feeling anxious, angry or depressed
  • Increased or decreased emotional sensitivity 

Delayed Symptoms

Delayed symptoms occur after the injury, sometimes hours or days later. Symptoms may also set in immediately and gradually worsen, like headaches, confusion, disorientation, nausea and seizures. If this happens, seek a doctor immediately, as it may indicate a serious concussion. Ignoring delayed symptoms can have dire consequences. 

Observation is key after any brain injury. The first two days are crucial in monitoring and acting on symptoms.

What Is Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS)?

Typically, concussion symptoms last from a few hours to a couple of days, or sometimes up to two weeks. However, in some cases, symptoms can persist for several months. In these situations, the initial injury may have been overlooked because it happened earlier than it was detected. Persistent symptoms commonly include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns. 

A doctor or physician might diagnose this as post-concussion syndrome (PCS). They may conduct tests beyond routine observations and physical examinations like cognitive assessments and neuroimaging. 

Older adults, those with a history of previous TBIs and individuals with specific psychological conditions are considered more susceptible to PCS. These individuals should receive extra care and attention after a head injury. The best protection against further brain trauma is to avoid activities that put them at risk of recurring head injuries.

Concussion and TBI Prevention Tips

Accidents cannot always be prevented. Taking precautions against injuries helps reduce the chances of suffering severe damage. Some tips to prevent concussions are listed below:

  • Avoid diving in shallow water.
  • Supervise younger kids at playgrounds and sporting events.
  • Remove tripping hazards like toys, electrical cords and loose rugs around the house. 
  • Wear appropriate protective headgear like helmets during active sports participation.

Consult a New York Spine Institute Specialist for Brain Injury Imaging Services

Whether mild or moderate, a concussion should be taken seriously. We often don’t know the extent of a brain injury until the symptoms cause bigger problems, so it’s best to consult an expert physician as soon as possible. Our team treats various conditions with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, and our comprehensive imaging services provide detailed diagnostics for a swift treatment plan. 

If you or someone you know requires medical attention due to a head injury, call us at 888-444-NYSI or complete a new patient appointment form, and we’ll call you back for confirmation.